At MD Anderson, some of the world’s leading liver cancer experts concentrate extraordinary expertise on you. Your care is personalized to deliver the most advanced therapies with the least impact on your body.
Surgery is the main treatment for liver cancer. The surgeon must have a high level of skill for it to be successful. Because many people with liver cancer have underlying liver damage, this delicate surgery must remove enough of the tumor to treat the cancer while leaving enough of the liver to function.
Liver cancer surgery has the best outcomes when it is done by a surgeon who performs a large number of these procedures. As one of the nation’s largest cancer centers, MD Anderson’s surgeons have exceptional levels of experience and expertise.
At MD Anderson, you benefit from some of the most innovative treatments available for liver cancer. Many of them are available at only a few centers nationwide. Our therapies include:
- Proton therapy
- New forms of chemotherapy, including sorafenib, that target the blood vessels that keep tumors alive
- Hepatic artery infusion to deliver chemotherapy directly to the liver
- Targeted therapies to help your body fight the cancer
For the most part, liver cancer can be treated successfully only when it is found in an early stage, before it has spread. Your treatment will depend on:
- The size of the tumor
- Whether you have cirrhosis of the liver
- Your general health
At MD Anderson, your treatment for liver cancer is customized to your needs. One or more of the following therapies may be suggested to treat the cancer or help relieve symptoms.
The best chance for successful treatment of liver cancer is with surgery. If all of the cancer can be removed, the possibility of successful treatment is higher. However, complete removal of liver cancer often is not possible because the cancer is large or has spread to other parts of the liver or the body. Also, the liver may be damaged because of other conditions. Surgeons try to remove as much of the tumor as possible while keeping enough of the liver to function.
Since the liver plays a part in blood clotting, bleeding after surgery is a frequent side effect. And, since the remaining liver still is damaged, the cancer may reappear.
The main types of surgery for liver cancer are:
Liver transplant: The diseased liver is removed, and then it is replaced with a healthy liver from a donor. If you have cirrhosis or if the tumor is large, a liver transplant likely will be the main treatment option. Liver transplant has a risk of serious infection and other health issues.
Partial hepatectomy: The part of the liver where the tumor is located is removed surgically (see illustration).
Tumor ablation: A local treatment in which heat (radiofrequency ablation) or extreme cold (cryosurgery or cryotherapy) is used to freeze or burn the liver cancer away. Ablation may be used when surgical removal of the tumor is not possible.
Embolization: Tiny pellets of plastic or another material are injected into the arteries that carry blood to the tumor. The pellets block blood flow, which makes it harder for liver cancer to grow.
Because radiation may destroy normal liver tissue as well as cancer cells, it can be used only in low doses for liver cancer. Radiation therapy cannot cure liver cancer, but it may be used to shrink the tumor or relieve pain.
New radiation therapy techniques and remarkable skill allow MD Anderson doctors to target tumors more precisely, delivering the maximum amount of radiation with the least damage to healthy cells.
The Proton Therapy Center at MD Anderson is one of the largest and most advanced centers in the world. It’s the only proton therapy facility in the country located within a comprehensive cancer center. This means this cutting-edge therapy is backed by all the expertise and compassionate care for which MD Anderson is famous.
Proton therapy delivers high radiation doses directly to the liver cancer tumor site, with no damage to nearby healthy tissue. For some patients, this therapy results in a higher chance for successful treatment with less impact on your body.
Chemotherapy usually is not used to treat liver cancer because of a low response rate. However, MD Anderson researchers are investigating new drugs, such as sorafenib, that target the blood vessels that keep tumors alive.
Our experts also are working on new ways to give chemotherapy drugs directly into the liver, delivering higher doses of drugs than usually possible with fewer side effects. These include:
Chemoembolization: A needle is inserted into an artery in the groin, and then a tiny tube is threaded into an artery leading to the liver. A high dose of medicine then is given. Afterward, the artery is blocked to prevent it from feeding blood to the liver.
Hepatic artery infusion: A catheter (tube) is placed in the liver. Drugs are infused into a special implanted pump that delivers them continuously.
Targeted therapies: MD Anderson is among just a few cancer centers in the nation that are able to offer targeted therapies for some types of liver cancer. These innovative new drugs stop the growth of cancer cells by interfering with proteins and receptors or blood vessels that supply the tumor with what it needs to grow.